“The Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina (ACBH) stands together with the victims and survivors in commemorating the Srebrenica Genocide, the worst atrocity to occur on European soil since World War II. We remember over 8,372 innocent Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) victims – the youngest being a newborn baby who in 2013, was buried next to her father, also a victim of the genocide.
Today, together with His Excellency Ambassador Haris Hrle, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Ambassador to the United States, Srebrenica genocide survivor Muska Smajlagic, Ida SeferRoche, President of the Bosnian-Americn Genocide Institute (BAGI) and Gideon Culman, one of the founding members of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council DC, ACBH commemorated the twenty-third anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide on Capitol Hill.
Ambassador Hrle expressed deep gratitude to the people of the United States of America for the support they gave to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) during the most difficult time in the country’s history. “Members of U.S. Congress were the first to understand the depth of the destruction of BiH, and were the first to start the debate based on principles of justice, honesty and humanity,” stated Ambassador Hrle. He praised former U.S. Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) for his longstanding support of BiH, and commended U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo for the press release that the U.S. Department of State issued yesterday in commemorating the genocide in Srebrenica. Lastly, the Ambassador commended Maureen Cormack, U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo for joining the Srebrenica Peace March for the fourth time and standing with the victims and survivors.
Muska Smajlagic offered a personal narrative of her family’s survival, and spoke about losing her father in the genocide and the longterm effects of loss. ” Almost ten years had passed since the burial of my father when we received yet another phone call from Bosnia to inform us that the remainder of my father’s remains have been identified in a different mass grave. On August of 2017, my middle sister, Mersiha, traveled to Srebrenica with her 11 year old son, Admir to hold the exhuming of our father. Admir is the oldest of the 6 grandchildren in our family. He is also the first male to enter our family since we lost our father. Growing up Admir would always ask questions why he didn’t have a grandfather. Unfortunately, for Admir both his grandfathers were killed in the Genocide. As he gets older, little by little he begins to understand the horrors and tragedies that took place during the war in Bosnia,” stated Muska.
Ida SeferRoche reminded us that genocide does not take place in a vacuum. Rather, it takes years of misplaced hate and rage. ” This year 35 victims will be buried. One of the victims has only one bone in his coffin. And while we may say that number over and over again 8,372 – I want us to remember the weight of that number. If we were to give 1 minute of silence for each of those people who were murdered, it would take us 6 days to say all of their names. 6 days,” stated Ida. She went on to read the names of each of the 35 victims that were buried at Potocari today.
Lastly, Gideon Culman spoke of his great grandfather Gustav who was a proud German solider. In the end, Gustav was killed by the Nazis along with his wife and daughter simply because he was a Jew. “We tune out at our peril the voices that would drive us apart,” stated Gideon, reminding the audience that “we must defy divisive voices that would have us see our neighbors as anything less than kin, to fellow humans in need, and to not let a day go by in which we take concrete steps to build a world of dignity for all.”
It has been twenty-three years since the United Nations (UN) and the international community failed to protect Srebrenica – a declared UN safe haven, against Serb military forces led by General Ratko Mladic who was found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Both the ICTY and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that what happened in Srebrenica to its Bosniak population was in fact an act of genocide under international law. In order to prove genocide in a court of law, one must prove the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group; and while the legal battle to prove that genocide occurred in Srebrenica has been won, the battle against genocide denial appears never ending.
Despite the overwhelming DNA evidence, genocide denial is growing and continues to threaten peace, progress and reconciliation in BiH and the region. Radovan Karadzic, the mastermind of the systematic expulsion, mass rapes, torture and extermination of BiH’s non-Serb population during the 1992-1995 war of aggression against BiH, continues to enjoy widespread support in BiH’s smaller entity Republika Srpska (RS), especially among the political elite. He was found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and, for Srebrenica, guilty of genocide.
And although explicit acts of genocide denial are easy to identify such as those perpetrated by RS, Serbia or Russian-controlled media in which war criminals are celebrated, and the number of the victims is questioned, the spectrum of denial itself is not just reserved for those who flat out refute or question the crimes committed. Rather, genocide denial can be wide and oftentimes subtle. By refusing to call what happened in Srebrenica by its proper name – genocide – journalists, scholars and everyday individuals contribute to a larger culture of genocide denial, especially when the refusal to use the word is purposeful and explicit. In BiH’s postwar society, not using the correct term and substituting the word for something else, may it be “massacre” or “mass murder” is particularly painful for survivors and it takes away the political nature of the crime. Twenty-three years of overt political acts of denial through the diminishment of the crimes, victims, and numbers has made the consistency of language that much more important.
The effects of denial are long lasting. Unrelenting attempts at historical revisionism have left the survivors embittered and less hopeful that their pain and sorrow will be fully recognized. This is the climate that the survivors of Srebrenica, of Prijedor, Visegrad, Foca, Sarajevo and countless other cities across BiH face as they try, over two decades later, to build a secure and peaceful future for their children, and for their children’s children. Today, as we lay 35 newly identified victims to rest, many of them who were very young with their entire lives ahead of them, let us vow to honor them by combatting genocide denial in whatever form it may present itself so that future generations of children may grow to know peace. In the words of the late Elie Wiesel, “for the dead and the living, we must bear witness. For not only are we responsible for the memories of the dead, we are also responsible for what we are doing with those memories.”
To the victims and survivors of the Srebrenica Genocide, – today and always, we stand with you.” (ACBiH)